The Best Garden Mulcher For Everyday Gardeners And Their Yards

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Best Garden Mulcher - Pile of fall leaves with fan rake on lawn

Garden mulchers are a big help when your clearing leaves and small branches. In this article, we compare & discover how you can best use them and how to determine what you need from a mulcher

ARE THE LEAVES AND BRANCHES in your garden starting to pile up? Thankfully, there's a much better way to deal with this mess.

A garden mulcher or shredder that can turn this mess into useful garden mulch in a matter of minutes. I love my mulcher, it turns all of the clippings, branches, twigs, and leaves into great mulch. Then I can use it in the garden or add to my compost pile.

With so many different models available, finding the best garden mulcher for your particular circumstance can be challenging. So to help, here is some  information that will make it easier for you to find the right one for your garden.

The Difference Between a Mulcher, Shredder & Wood Chipper

If you have had a look around already, you might find mulchers mixed in with shredders and wood chippers. The easiest way to define the differences is that mulchers are for small items (i.e. leaves and twigs). They are also typically powered by an electricity cord.

Shredders are similar to mulchers, but can process a little more. Branches up to 1.5 – 2 inches in diameter. They are more of a all-rounder type unit. The trade off here is that shredders are slower to get the job done than mulchers. This being due to the mechanisms that shred the green material are different (How they work is covered later in the article).

For the average homeowner, a mulcher or a shredder will suffice for most jobs and is recommended.

Wood chippers are the largest category, for items like big branches (over 2 inches in diameter). These are typically gas powered and some are sold as commercial units. To cover all bases, all 3 are covered in more detail below.

Choosing the Best Garden Mulcher for Your Needs

If you are not careful, you could easily end up buying a garden mulcher that causes more frustration than it solves problems. It can easily end up being the wrong size or style to handle the mess in your yard.

I have used many different types of mulchers over the years. The most important point I have taken away from my experience is how hard it can be to find one that can handle everything you care to throw at it.

To help determine which of them is going to be the best garden mulcher for your needs, there are a few factors you need to consider and questions you need to be able to answer.

What Materials Will You Be Mulching?

Mulching small twigs and branches in a garden mulcher

Small twigs and branches like this are prefect for a corded electric shredder

Is it only a once a year job clearing the leaves in Fall, or do you need to trim back some trees that are getting out of hand? Once you have decided, it's best to look at the manufacturer's list of materials their unit is capable of handling.

How Often Do You Plan to Use Your Mulcher?

Commercial sized wood mulchers/shredders get used often, which is one reason why they are expensive

Large sized wood chippers take harsh treatment and chip pretty much anything you can throw at them. A few reasons why they are more expensive

Do you plan to use your mulcher several times each year or are you looking for a unit that will only be used in the fall to deal with all the leaves that drop? If you only need one for use in the fall, you will probably be fine with a lighter duty model, but if you plan to use it on larger items more frequently, you may find that a heavier duty model (shredder/wood chipper) will be a better choice.

How Much Mulching Are You Going to Be Doing?

How much yard waste do you think you will need to process at one given time. In the event that you have large piles of waste, you need to choose a machine that is capable of handling this type of capacity.

Machines with a smaller funnel (such as shredders) are subject to becoming jammed if you try to push too much debris through them at one time. Buying a machine that is too small can lead to frustration as it can make a simple project take far longer than necessary.

How Big is Your Yard?

A large yard space with many trees

A yard like this with many trees will require a decent unit to keep up with the debris left by the trees

If you have a large yard you should think about purchasing one that can be easily moved around. Another thing to consider (one I forgot to think about with my first mulcher), is that if you buy an electric mulcher, you may not be able to use it effectively as there may not be electrical outlets nearby.

You should only use a heavy-duty outdoor extension cord with a mulcher. Smaller cords may reduce the amount of power available to the unit. This can lead to poor performance, overheating, and damage to your mulcher.

On the other hand, if you have a smaller yard, you may not want a gasoline powered unit as they are heavy and noisy. These units are designed for use in larger areas with much larger branches and debris.

Also worth noting is that both electric and gas-powered models can be designed to handle smaller or larger debris, again be sure to read the specs listed by the manufacturer.

What is Your Budget?

If you are like me and need to carefully plan every dollar that you spend (and justify it with the wife), you need to consider price.  If all you have is a small yard with very limited amounts of debris, price may not be something worth considering as a small electric model should suffice.

On the other hand, if you have a larger yard you might want to think about performance, and versatility. You can save some money by going with a shredder rather than a wood chipper. At my place anything that doesn't go into the shredder gets cut up and goes into the fireplace.

How Much Mulch are You Going to Be Making?

Man mulching a small flower garden

The amount of mulch you plan to make and use also plays a role in the size and type of garden mulcher you decide to buy. If you are just planning to mulch for a small garden or composter from time to time, a small electric mulcher should do the trick nicely.

On the other hand, if you have a large garden or several gardens that you plan to keep well covered in mulch all year round, you may find that investing in one of the bigger gas powered units is much better idea. The good news is that if you have had to purchase mulch in the past, you can reap the rewards with a good quality unit.

The Pros & Cons of Electric and Gasoline Power

The type of power (electric motor or gasoline engine) is perhaps one of the most important decisions you need to make. Each has their advantages and disadvantages you need to be aware of before making your final decision.

Electric shredder with wood chips used for garden mulching

Electric shredder with wood chips used for garden mulching

Electric Motors

Pros

Cons

Quiet

Limited range (near electrical outlets)

Low cost

Limited to smaller waste

Easily portable

Tend to jam easily

 
Gas powered garden mulcher

A Gas powered unit ready to start work

Gasoline Engines

Pros

Cons

Great for larger yards

Noisy

Can shred larger limbs and waste

Require gasoline to use

No limit to range

More expensive

How Garden Mulchers and Shredders Work

The Difference Between the Different Mechanisms

Although there are variations in models including stand-alone, walk behind and vacuum models, a big difference between the different units is how they turn the garden debris into mulch. This section covers how the different mechanisms work.

Should Your Mulcher Have Flails or Blades?

The best garden mulchers have a variety of different ways to process materials, because of this I am going to go over the most common of them.

Flails  

Many garden shredders make use of flails mounted on a rotor. As the rotor spins, the material being fed into the machine is shredded into fine pieces.

These machines are designed strictly for use on smaller twigs, leaves, and debris. Anything bigger than this is likely to end up breaking off the flails resulting in stopping the machine and changing the parts over (which will get old quickly).

Blades

A typical set of replacement blades for a mulcher. Image courtesy of Oregon

Those that are designed to shred typically have a number of blades (sometimes called knives) attached to a flywheel the spins. As you feed the material into the unit, the spinning blades will shred it and turn it into mulch.

However, in order to function at their best, the blades need to be kept sharp. Even if you don't end up hitting a few rocks or pieces of metal, you will still need to sharpen the blades every 20 hours or so.

These units tend not to work well with softer materials but work great with small green branches. Tough old branches may also tend to dull the blades more quickly, requiring more time spent sharpening them.

Four of the Best Garden Mulchers

So, with all of this in mind and knowing what you should be looking for when trying to find the best garden mulcher to fit your needs and of course your budget. One thing to remember is that price should never be your first or even second consideration when buying a mulcher.

You should start by looking for the best garden mulcher to get the job done and then worry about cost. Even if you have to save for a little bit longer, you will find the wait well worth it in the end.

Hand-held Vacuum Blower/Vacuum Mulcher

Portable power in your hands that is perfect for smaller yards where your only concern is cleaning up the leaves in Fall. Also great for people with bad backs.

The Black and Decker BV5600 High-Performance Blower/Vac Mulcher

Hand-Held Blower/Vac Makes Raking Leaves a Thing of the Past

 

This little beauty not only acts as a mulcher, it can also be used to vacuum up the leaves you have just blown into a big pile. If all you have to worry about is the leaves that drop in the fall, this may be all you need.

The 12-amp motor creates a 250-mph wind and has two operating speeds. With this unit, you can grind up to 16 bags of leaves and turn them into a single bag of mulch you can put in your garden or in your compost pile.

Pros

Cons

Affordable

Blade/impeller is aluminum and may shatter

Lightweight

Fan inertia can twist unit from hands

High-speed 250-mph winds

Leaves tend to get stuck in pick up tube

Portable Free-Standing Electric Mulcher

This type of mulcher is designed to be put in one place and left there for use. Typically they are made of a few different pieces which come apart when it's time to pack away. This way they take less space than a typical portable free-standing mulcher.

Worx 13 Amp Electric Leaf Mulcher WG430

A Wide Mouth and Large Capacity Machine that Could Come in Very Handy

The 13-amp electric motor is powerful enough to chew through up to 53 gallons of leaves per minute and dump them straight into your collection bag or a neat pile you can use to mulch your garden.

It features the Worx patented Flex-a-Line blade that provides an 11:1 mulching ratio. Once the job is done, you can easily and quickly fold this mulcher down to a compact unit that can easily be stored in your garden shed.

Pros

Cons

Clean air motor cooling system

Generates a lot of dust

Huge capacity

Is for use on leaves only

Powerful 13-Amp motor

Plug does not have a ground lug for safety in wet conditions

Portable Free-Standing Electric Shredder

Electric powered shredders on wheels can make moving the unit around your yard much easier and the wide feed mouth makes feeding your debris a breeze. They are more versatile in shredding small branches as well as leaves and twigs, however they don't come apart easy meaning they can take up more space than a stand alone mulcher.

Eco-Shredder ES1600 14-Amp Electric Chipper / Shredder / Mulcher

Roll this Beauty to the Work Site with Ease

 

Not everyone wants to carry a mulcher on their shoulder, this one can easily be rolled anywhere within reach of a power outlet. Not only is it equipped with a powerful 14-amp electric motor, you also get a spare set of blades.

With no gas engine, all you have to do is plug it in and hit the switch. The large top hopper design makes feeding waste including leaves, brush, chips, and small branches up to 1.375 inches in diameter easy.

Pros

Cons

Wheels make moving the mulcher easy

Must feed slowly or risk damaging blades

Plenty of power

Does not work well with wet debris

Shreds debris into mulch no bigger than a dime

Product manual leaves a lot to be desired

Gasoline Power

Gas powered shredders and chippers tend to be far more expensive than most electric models (think 3 to 6 times more expensive). However, they tend to be far more powerful and capable of handling larger limbs and debris. They are much heavier duty than electric mulchers. Most are mounted on wheels to ensure easier portability, but can be awkward to move.

Brush Master CH3M15 270cc 3″ Diameter Feed Commercial Duty Shredder

Pure Gasoline Power to Shred Just About Anything in Your Yard

 

This is one of the most powerful gas chipper/shredders in its class and features 16 hammers and a single hardened chromium steel blade to ensure maximum shredding efficiency. It can handle branches up to 3-inches in diameter that can be fed in through the top or the side.  

The entire housing is made from solid heavy gauge steel instead of easily worn out plastic or aluminum. Creates 1 bag of 1/4-inch mulch from 12 bags of debris

Pros

Cons

Can handle branches up to 3-inches in diameter

Noisy

Comes with a tow bar for ease of portability

Very heavy

Belt drive with centrifugal clutch to protect engine

Belt may wear out slowing down shredding action

Other Options

If a free-standing mulcher does not sound like it will work for your needs, there is one more alternative, a chipper/shredder vacuum.  

These devices look a little like a lawn mower, but instead of cutting the lawn, they vacuum up leaves and shred them on the way to the bag hanging on the back.

They are ideal for cleaning up the leaves in larger yards and take the back breaking pain out of raking.

Troy-Bilt CSV60 159cc Push Chipper Shredder Vac

Nothing Like Doing a Little Yard Vacuuming

 

This little beauty from Troy-Bilt a world leader in outdoor equipment manufacturer nicely shreds your leaves into a fine mulch that can be used directly in the garden or in your compost pile. It also vacuums your yard clear of all those pesky leaves in the fall. You can use the 7-foot long hose with extensions to get into tight spaces or under trees and shrubs.

Pros

Cons

Gas powered portability

Owner's manual does not cover assembly

Hardened steel impeller

Catch bag tears

Comes with a 2-bushel felt-lined collection bag

Does not create fine mulch

The Final Shred, Mulch or Chip

There is a lot more to choosing the best garden mulcher than simply running out to the store and buying one. I hope that by providing you this information, I have at least taken some of the guesswork out of buying the right mulcher for your garden.

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